GCU returns to form

Gold Coast United put a turbulent week behind it to retain third spot on the ladder with a spirited 1-0 defeat of Sydney FC at Skilled Park on Saturday night.

Gold Coast United put a turbulent week behind it to retain third spot on the ladder with a spirited 1-0 defeat of Sydney FC at Skilled Park on Saturday night.

Restructured after back-to-back losses, United's defence was on-song and its right side attack provided plenty of opportunities including Shane Smeltz's 36th-minute match-winner.

Kristian Rees returned from injury to pull together Gold Coast's defence, Joel Porter was reinstated to the run-on side and Steve Fitzsimmons started in the midfield as the early season hot-shots returned to form.

Sydney's left defence struggled with the speed and touch of the home side, and its job was made so much more difficult after losing midfield general and captain Steve Corica with a leg injury after just 18 minutes.

The dynamic duo of Alex Brosque and Mark Bridge was ineffectual for Sydney up front as a committed Gold Coast defence put the clamps on the Hyundai A-League newcomers.

After a week of criticism, Jason Culina was sharp in the centre of the pitch, his combinations with Zenon Caravella and Steve Pantelidis will surely give coach Miron Bleiberg a foundation to build on heading into the back end of the season.

A relieved Culina was proud of the effort his charges put in after a week of intense scrutiny.

"We played with passion tonight, it has been there all along but it has just been hiding somewhere," he said.

"The boys showed a lot of enthusiasm and pride tonight."

Both teams started the match cautiously with neither prepared to show their hand too early in the contest, but it was the visitors who gave the first scare when their front-men had their best chance of the night.

A deft touch from Bridge allowed Brosque some space at the top of the box but Scott Higgins was on the spot to deny the shot.

As the match went on the home side grabbed the ascendancy and came with a flurry of attacking opportunities midway through the first half.

When Sebastien Ryall fouled Caravella, Culina was given a dead-ball chance from the sideline. Culina curled the ball into the box and landed it right at the feet of Smeltz but Sydney keeper Clint Bolton got a toe to the ball and knocked it safely behind goal.

Culina stepped up again to take the corner and after a scrimmage in the box Caravella blasted away from 20 metres but was well off target with the shot.

Gold Coast continued to pile on the pressure and when Fitzimmons put a neat chip in from the wing Smeltz had a golden opportunity only for his header to stray past the upright.

But Sydney's relief was fleeting as Culina came pouring down the left again and delivered an almost identical cross for Smeltz to put the Coast up 1-0 with a deft header past Bolton and into the top left corner.

Moments later United was at it again down the same corridor, this time Porter found Caravella with a nice ball, but with plenty of net to shoot for Caravella could only manage to guide the ball into Bolton's left leg.

With Culina seeing plenty of ball, rugged Sydney midfielder Stuart Musialik attempted to manhandle the United skipper but Culina was having none of it and both men were shown yellow cards as a scuffle erupted.

The second half was played out to a stalemate with United unwilling to risk its lead and Sydney unable to penetrate the defence.

Sydney coach Vitezslav Lavicka was downcast after the match but took time to pay homage to Gold Coast.

"I thought we started well, but we fell away when we had to make some changes," he said.

"Credit must go the Gold Coast, they played with good commitment."

Gold Coast United 1 (Smeltz 36') Sydney FC 0 @ Skilled Park, Robina, 7/11/09. Crowd: 5364